Five things the Wall Street Journal inadvertently told us yesterday about office design

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Some inadvertent truths

Some inadvertent truths

If I were to show you a headline from the Wall Street Journal announcing ‘Say Goodbye to the Office Cubicle’, you might date it at any time between the mid 1980s and 1990s. Maybe earlier. But it was actually in yesterday’s issue, dated 2 April 2013. Now, we could be amused by this or act all aghast at the sight of those dinosaurs yet to adopt a norm of open, collaborative and shared spaces never mind the ‘digital workplace’; or we could conclude that this tells us several important things about how those people and organisations who don’t keep a daily eye on workplace trends view the buildings they inhabit.

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Office design goes to the movies. Part 5 – Minority Report

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Minority ReportWe obviously like films like this. High concept noir sci-fi, based on a book by Philip K Dick of course; dystopian, chock full of ideas and technology that seemed cool and subversive in 2002 and is mundane in 2013. I mean, the screens are still cool but who wouldn’t rather have a file stored in the Cloud or on a USB stick than inside a perspex panel the size of a brick? Deskheads may recognise the furniture as the totally of-a-piece Resolve from Herman Miller designed by Ayse Birsel. They can use this fact to bore whoever they are watching with who would presumably rather be watching Tom Cruise doing his Blue Steel face in the foreground. Or is it Magnum?

New research from China highlights benefits of working from home

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CTripA new report from researchers at Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Guanghua Management School at Beijing University looking into the experience of working from home at one large Chinese firm has found that the practice led to a 13 per cent increase in productivity. The research also found that workers reported increased levels of job satisfaction and half elected to continue working from home when the choice was given to them at the end of the study period even though it was evident that their chances of promotion on the basis of performance had reduced as a result of the experiment.

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Will an upturn spark a revival of interest in the idea of employer branding?

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Employer brandingYou may recall that a few years ago there was a voguish interest in the idea of employer branding. This is the kind of thing that has always gone on but can always be defined and popularised,  in this case following the publication of a book on the subject in 2005. By 2008 Jackie Orme, the head of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, was calling it ‘an integral part of business strategy’. Still, it appears to have dropped off the radar a bit over the last few years, a fact we might put down to the effect of the recession. Firms certainly seem to have their mind on other things. Research published last year by PriceWaterhouseCoopers showed that  in 2009, 54 per cent of businesses said they placed a special focus on retaining talent. By 2012 that had dropped to 36 per cent.

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Video: one of the keys to a productive workplace: micro-organisms?

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The quest for the answer to what makes us productive at work is an endless one, of course. Partly this is due to misleading research claims from suppliers that the provision of a specific product will increase productivity by x per cent. But mostly it’s because the answers shift from case to case and over time because while we can identify the factors that make people more productive, it’s harder to pin down the effects of their interrelationships. Plant walls and better seating won’t by themselves improve the performance of somebody who hates their job. Nevertheless, it’s important to design all the productivity factors into a building, including at a bacterial level according to Jessica Green who here explores the impact of microbes in different areas of an office building.

Facebook hits like button for low-key Gehry campus building

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FAcebook campus 2Normally it would strike you as a bit odd that a company would appoint one of the world’s most high profile architects to design its new headquarters, a man with an immediately recognisable and frequently stunning visual style, only to then ask him to rein it all in and produce something pretty sober and unobtrusive. But that is precisely what Facebook has done with the appointment of Frank Gehry who has been tasked with producing a low key design for its new headquarters building  and campus in California which gained approval at the end of last week.

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Office design goes to the movies. Part 4 – Ikiru

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IkiruAkira Kurosawa’s film typifies the way that office life is usually portrayed in movies. The crushing bureaucracy that the protagonist Kanji Watanabe is part of – and ultimately rebels against – is symbolised by the towering piles of paper that surround him and his colleagues. Even when he’s walking around, he seems to be carrying them with him, stooped and distant. Many offices may have freed themselves of the sheer bulk of paper these days, but we can still find ourselves weighed down by hierarchy, rules, customs and information. Ultimately we also have freedom to decide for ourselves what is truly important.

Our hardwired response to patterns can be a useful trait for designers

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flying_fishOur ability to recognise patterns is hardwired. We instinctively and often unconsciously look for patterns everywhere. Where none exist we often impose them, grouping things  together according to their colour, shape, texture, number, taste, smell, touch or function. We do this to make sense of the world and to understand what goes on around us. And conversely, the patterns we perceive influence the way we think and how we feel. It was the psychologist Carl Jung who first explained how the innate human ability to recognise patterns is rooted in the need for primitive humans to perceive patterns in the world around them as a way of identifying threats.

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Office design goes to the movies. Part 3 – Being John Malkovich

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In which John Cusack plays an unemployed puppeteer who takes a mundane office clerk’s job in the low-ceilinged offices on Floor 7½ of the Mertin Flemmer Building in New York. When he asks his boss why the ceilings are so low, he is told ‘low overhead my boy’.  Bad pun, great commentary on how it’s always possible to fit a little bit more into the building, especially if you ignore the bothersome problem of the people who work inside and their physical constraints.

Video: Forget Yahoo – why telecommuting is good for your business

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Think you’ve seen every possible angle on the recent Yahoo-ha about flexible working? Maybe not because here’s a unique take on the subject courtesy of the guys at MinuteMBA. We’d like to invite somebody to animate the other side of the argument but while we can be certain that nearly everybody thinks they are a writer these days, the skill of animation is not so easily taken for granted.

The best Swedish workplaces for 2013 are announced

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Stockholm

Stockholm

The Great Place to Work Institute has named its list of Sweden’s Best Workplaces for 2013. The list of 122 companies features some well known multinationals such as McDonald’s and Microsoft as well as many local business in the three categories for large, medium and small businesses. Construction industry supplies firm Hilti, which came in second in the large business category behind Microsoft, was identified as the firm which had climbed the most in the rankings.  The survey claims  to draw attention to those organisations which work actively for an exemplary workplace culture.

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The resistance to flexible working is entirely reasonable

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Home workingIn recent media coverage of the decision by Yahoo to ban homeworking as well as a recent survey from Microsoft, the resistance to the idea that people work better when they are allowed to work flexibly has typically been put down to cultural inertia. Sometimes those who have resisted the uptake of flexible working have been portrayed as dinosaurs. While there’s no question that culture and management attitudes do create barriers to the uptake of flexible working, there is a growing recognition that certain flexible working practices may not be appropriate for many people and organisations and even specific sectors. The barriers may be there for a good reason.

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